Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

April 22, 2010

Stephanie Iron Shooter shoots straight with TERS students about suicide

By Lailani Upham

Montana Tribal Montana/Wyoming Leadership Council Program Coordinator, Stephanie Iron Shooter shares her personal experience with suicide to Two Eagle River School students last Thursday. Iron Shooter travels Montana reservations to target Native youth with suicide prevention trainings and seminars. (Lailani Upham photo)
Montana Tribal Montana/Wyoming Leadership Council Program Coordinator, Stephanie Iron Shooter shares her personal experience with suicide to Two Eagle River School students last Thursday. Iron Shooter travels Montana reservations to target Native youth with suicide prevention trainings and seminars. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Tips and advice on suicide prevention can only go so deep with Native youth – but tell them a life experience and how the death call was conquered will earn applause.

That is just what happened at Two Eagle River School last Thursday when Stephanie Iron Shooter, The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council “Planting Seeds of Hope” program manager, made a visit to conduct a short training on suicide prevention.

Iron Shooter was in Polson for a Clan Leadership training with the organization and was requested by, Big Brother Big Sisters of Flathead to make an appearance at Two Eagle to speak with the “Bigs,” but the plan extended into speaking to all the students ages 15 and older, according to Julia Williams, BBBS Director.

The Planting Seeds of Hope program, a project branched from the MWTLC organization, launched in May of 2006. The program’s motto is to "honor your life, honor your ancestors." The organization works with the Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, Fort Belknap, and Fort Peck.

PSOH Tribal Training Coordinators work on crisis intervention teams, grief support group development, and life promotion trainings. The groups have also developed tribal specific suicide prevention plans that include culture components and collaborations with IHS, BIA, schools, and recently Tribal Veterans Reps.

Iron Shooter paced the floor, meeting the students eye-to-eye as she pointed out things to do when it came to facing a suicidal friend or relative. “Getting them to talk and listen are very important, and stay with them as long as possible” she said. “Ask them straight out, why they want to do it,“ she added. Asking and getting the person to talk and think it out and to let them know you care helps she advised. “But remember you have no control over whether they do it or not,” she stressed.

According to a study 70 percent of suicide involves an alcohol or drug substance. “Your mind is not normal and it’s more likely to happen,” Iron Shooter said.

The students tuned in but were reluctant to answer questions during the suicide prevention training. However, when she asked if anyone experienced someone trying to commit suicide one student spoke up and disclosed that a friend of his had tried it more than twice. The student shared the incidents were over his friend’s girl friend.

Many people consider suicide because of a close relationship that is hurting, Iron Shooter said. “Many times it has to do with a relationship and not always a love relationship,” she said. “A lot of the times its because of a family member such as a mom/dad/child relationship.”

As she asked the students questions, one young man blurted out, “Well, what’s your story?”

Iron Shooter told the students of the first time she experienced the hopeless life-taking mind-set was when she was 16-years-old on the Fort Belknap Reservation. Iron Shooter said she tried and tried to reach out to her mother when she was feeling the hopelessness – but she felt the cry went on deaf ears. “She wouldn’t do anything,” she said. Then the idea of taking her life grew until it took action.

With many packages of sleeping pills and a bottle of vodka the young Iron Shooter kept her attempt undercover. “I didn’t tell anyone and went to my room,” she told the students. Her vivid memory of the experience is that she remembers getting sick and seeing blotches of light. Immediately she knew something was not right and did something out of the ordinary for her – and she prayed. “I prayed and asked God if I wake up from this I will promise to get help.” When she did wake up and got the help, it wasn’t what she expected. “I was sent to a psychiatric ward where there were severe mental disorders and it was freaky and scary.” It was then she made a vow to win this battle over her life and help others.

She ended her session with the same eye-to-eye contact and smile, “And so I decided to help my people with my story.” The story reached the hearts of the students with a cheer and applause.

In closing she added, “If you think you don’t have anyone – call me. We talk to kids from many reservations. We’re here for you – talking to someone means so much,” she said.

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